25 May, 2015

Hawk-moth duo

Hawk moths of any kind are a rare occurrence in the garden so for two species to arrive last night definitely called for a celebratory blog post! Poplar Hawk-moth is one I've wanted to see for years, so to finally have it turn up in the garden was a pretty special moment.

Hawks are particularly brilliant as they provide an attractive outlet through which to share the magic of moths with family and friends who don't otherwise share quite the same obsessive keen interest as I do. It makes you wonder how much stigma would still surround this group of 'brown clothes-eating' insects if we weren't blessed with such fantastic crowd pleasers such as hawk-moths...

Poplar Hawk-moth

Lime Hawk-moth

It had to be done. 

Migrant fix

If you're linked up in anyway to the moth grapevine (all your mates probably are), you might have heard about the huge influx of migrant insects into Britain that has taken place in the past month. A fantastic array of exotic species which usually reside in southern Europe and Africa are being blown across the English Channel in their thousands, dropping down into moth-traps across the south coast.

Whilst the migrant 'hotspot' areas around Swanage and Portland enjoy scarcities such as Striped Hawk-moths & Golden Twin-spot, us inlanders rarely get a piece of the action. However, with the sheer volume of moths arriving into the country in the past few weeks, all the ingredients are there to make this a fantastic year for migrant species.

Bordered Straw (Heliothis peltigera) have made up the bulk of migrant records so far in 2015, so was always going to be the most likely candidate to turn up in the garden. It was still a welcome surprise when this one landed on the lawn yesterday morning while I photographed the previous night's catch. Amazing to think that this hatched out in southern Europe...

Bordered Straw

Light Brocade - of more local origins!

24 May, 2015

Moth survey in the Malverns

I joined Tony Simpson and Jenny Palmer back on Thursday for a moth survey in the Malvern Hills. Jenny has the enviable job of conservation officer within the hills, so the records we collected of any notable species during the survey would go towards influencing future management across the Malvern reserves. We were particularly eager to reaffirm the presence of Pyrausta cingulata, a colourful chalk grassland species with a very restricted distribution in the Midlands.

Despite a hefty search across the steep slopes we didn't manage to find our target species - although it may have been slightly too early in the season. However, it's hard to complain with the scenery so stunning and especially when the most abundant moth was Thisanotia chrysonuchella - a subtly patterned little scarcity which has always managed to evade me further down south.

A generous supporting cast of invertebrates and birds including a pristine Speckled Yellow, several Tree Pipits, a Cuckoo and Red Kite rounded off a great day in the Malvern Hills - my last chance to get over there for a while as I headed back home for the summer this afternoon.

Speckled Yellow

Glyphipterix simpliciella

Mompha conturbatella larva within the spun leaves of Willowherb - a very obvious leafmine at this time of year.

Orange Tip

Portevinia maculata, the aptly named 'Ramsons Hoverfly' can be easy to find around its foodplant at the moment.

Cionus hortulanus - very common on all Figwort plants.

19 May, 2015

And the award for the most pointless mowing goes to...

It seems like the pretty flowers and wildlife in the alleyway the other day were all a little too overwhelming for one local resident, and this was the view that greeted me when I walked out there this morning. Someone had decided to cut down a 10 metre stretch of lush flowering grasses and plantain for no reason...

Alas, there have been greater atrocities inflicted on nature by humans, but on a local scale there is nothing to gain from cutting down the middle part of this rarely used, overgrown track. The tallest stalks of plantain were no higher than 3 inches, so it wouldn't exactly present an obstacle to passing cars, and it doesn't exactly form part of anyone's garden.

'Tidiness' is a man-made concept - why do we feel the need to constantly inflict it on the natural world?

16 May, 2015

What a transformation!

The past couple of weeks have seen the alleyway behind our student house transform into an invertebrate haven, with a healthy range of common plants (Green Alkanet, Herb Robert, Red Campion, Deadly Nightshade & Ribwort Plantain to name a few) sprouting up on the disturbed ground. Add to that a couple of garden escapes (Greater Celandine and Honesty) and the alley has become an attractive location for visiting pollinators...

Wildflowers thriving on rough ground

Green Alkanet

Ribwort Plantain

A mixture of garden escapes - ideal nectar sources for bees & hoverflies

Sphaerophoria scripta

Marmalade Hoverfly

Nephrotoma flavescens

Red Mason Bee

Bordered Shieldbug

14 May, 2015

Cellar Cup

We handed in our last assignment of the semester yesterday, marking the end of second year. Given the huge workload we've had to endure in the past few weeks, it was inevitable that cleaning chores in our student house would take a back foot...

A Peziza fungus - a.k.a Cellar Cup

... nah, joking. We're not that bad - this wicked creature has actually been thriving amongst mud and asbestos in our outdoor garage for the past couple of weeks. Insane! 

01 May, 2015

Incurvaria pectinea

Incurvaria pectinea

A real spring gem that is fairly easy to find during the day around birch trees, I found this nice example of Incurvaria pectinea resting amongst bluebells in Shrawley Wood during a recent uni field trip. It's situations like this when I find it always helps to carry a spare specimen pot or two in my rucksack, even when I'm not in moth mode!

For anyone wishing to gen up on their Incurvaria identification, I made this brief comparison based on moths caught on my local patch last spring...

26 April, 2015

Micropterix tunbergella

I spent my Sunday helping to run a Worcester Bat Group stall at the Knapp and Papermill, a local reserve run by the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust. It was a beautiful day and fantastic location, and any spare time I could find was spent chilling by river watching a Dipper collect food in the shallow water, whilst nearby a pair of Kingfishers appeared to be feeding chicks in a hole in the river bank.

I noticed this tiny moth out the corner of my eye, perched on a bluebell - Micropterix tunbergella. I've seen this species once before, but on such a dull day that I never got to fully appreciate the remarkable colours on its wings. Today though - with the sun beaming down - I was left speechless...

Micropterix tunbergella

18 April, 2015

Of Emperor Moths and Disappointment

I'd been looking forward to yesterday morning's course field trip to the Devil's Spittleful for ages. Lying just east of Bewdley and the Wyre Forest, the site comprises to a large extent of heathland, with smaller areas of dry grassland and deciduous woodland - perfect habitat for Emperor Moth!

Even though we were supposed to be looking into the practicalities of managing rabbits to maintain optimum sward height (or something), I'd brought along a hand net just in case and soon had everyone tapping away at the heather bushes in the hope that an Emperor Moth might fly out.

Much to everyone's disappointment (I may have slightly played up our chances of finding it), we didn't catch an Emperor, and to make matters worse the group didn't seem to cheer up when I pulled out what I thought was a wicked consolation prize in the form of a Trifurcula immundella moth larval mine on Broom.

I mean c'mon. Look at the way the caterpillar has worked its way straight down the stem! Now that IS a mine...

Trifurcula immundella - prooaahhh!

Cladonia portentosa

Early Mining Bee (Andrena haemorrhoa)

16 April, 2015

A night in the Wyre Forest

Last night I joined a crack team of local Worcestershire enthusiasts for a spring moth survey in the Wyre Forest - a large reserve in the north of the county that I've been meaning to visit since I first started Uni. Its ancient woodland is up there with the oldest and most well preserved in England, and the variety of species that depend on it is enviable - from breeding Wood Warblers and Pied Flycatchers, to Pearl-bordered Fritillary and the mesmerizingly beautiful but extremely rare moth Oecophora bractella.

We set the traps up in a remote wooded valley overlooking the Dowles Brook (famous for its thriving Dipper population), and watched on as the sun dipped below the tree line and nocturnal Woodcock began to display in the chilly air above us. The scenery was so spectacular that I only wished I'd arrived earlier to fully take it all in...

The moths were equally spectacular, with a tally of over 30 species recorded by midnight. Amongst the hundreds of Frosted Greens were a couple of Blossom Underwings - one of my favourite moths and a real oak woodland speciality - as well as a nice supporting cast of Scalloped Hook-tip, Early Tooth-stripe and Streamer.

Blossom Underwing - what a peach-coloured beauty!

Frosted Green - the most common species in the traps

Early Tooth-stripe


Scalloped Hook-tip

Dyseriocrania subpurpurella

Diurnea fagella

Psyche casta larval case on barbed wire

Assignments? Exam revision? Don't know what you're talking about. Anyway, I've got to zip off and set up the campus moth trap ready for a society event tonight! Busy times!